How to Know When You're Enabling an Alcoholic

How Enabling Takes Many Forms

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Many times when family and friends try to "help" alcoholics, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease. This baffling phenomenon is called enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect—allowing the alcoholic to avoid the consequences of his actions.

Enabling allows the alcoholic to continue merrily along his (or her) drinking ways, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much he screws up, somebody will always be there to rescue him from his mistakes.

What is the difference between helping and enabling? There are many opinions and viewpoints on this, some of which can be found on the pages linked below, but here is a simple description:

Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves. Enabling is doing for someone things that they could and should be doing themselves. Simply, enabling creates an atmosphere in which the alcoholic can comfortably continue his unacceptable behavior.

Are You An Enabler?

Answer these 10 questions to help you decide whether or not your actions and reactions to the alcoholic might be enabling. Click on the link above to take the enabling self-assessment test. If you answered "yes" to any of the questions, you at some point in time have enabled the alcoholic to avoid his own responsibilities.

Rather than "help" the alcoholic, you have actually made it easier for him to get worse. If you answered "yes" to most or all of the questions, you have not only enabled the alcoholic, you have probably become a major contributor to the growing and continuing problem and chances are have become affected by the disease yourself.

Facing the Consequences

As long as the alcoholic has his enabling devices in place, it is easy for him to continue to deny he has a problem — since most of his problems are being "solved" by those around him.

Only when he is forced to face the consequences of his own actions, will it finally begin to sink in how deep his problem has become.

Some of these choices are not easy for the friends and families of alcoholics. If the alcoholic drinks up the money that was supposed to pay the utility bill, he's not the only one who will be living in a dark, cold, or sweltering house. The rest of the family will suffer right along with him.

Tough Choices

That makes the only option for the family seem to be taking the money intended for groceries and paying the light bill instead, since nobody wants to be without utilities. But that is not the only option.

Taking the children to friends or relatives, or even a shelter, and letting the alcoholic come home alone to a dark house, is an option that protects the family and leaves the alcoholic face-to-face with his problem. Those kinds of choices are difficult. They require "detachment with love." But it is love.

Unless the alcoholic is allowed to face the consequences of his own actions, he will never realize just how much his drinking has become a problem — to himself and those around him.

Getting Help

Often those closest to the alcoholic or addict believe if they can just get him to stop drinking or drugging, it will solve all of the problems. They may attempt a family intervention and many other tactics to try to "solve the problem."

But many families find that even if the alcoholic or addict quits and gets into recovery, the problems linger. For families dealing with either an active or recovering alcoholic, there are many resources available to offer help and support through the difficulties. Many family members have found that joining Al-Anon Family Groups have changed their lives completely.

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Article Sources
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  1. Addiction How I Created My Enablers. By Addiction Campuses Editorial Team. Published February 10, 2015. Revised October 4, 2017. Nashville, Tenn.: Addiction Campuses 2020

  2. TheRecoveryVillage. 9 Tips for Family Members to Stop Enabling an Addict. By Camille Renzoni. Updated 01-16-2020. Umatilla, Fla.: The Recovery Village® at Umatilla 2020

  3. Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. How to Help an Addict by Detaching with Love. By Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. July 22, 2015. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Publishing Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation 2019

  4. Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. What is enabling. Enabling behaviors and resources. By Elina Kala. April 6, 2016. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden Publishing Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation 2019